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What is Happening in Myanmar? (Pt. 5)

Disclaimer: Due to the size of this article, this post is part of a 5-part series to be published over the course of this week. To read the entirety of the article at once, visit our Medium page.

Part 5

Present Day

Myanmar’s military coup began in the early morning of February 1, 2021. On February 2, the Parliament was scheduled to be seated for the first time since the 2020 elections.[1] That would have been the first day of the new government, with President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi beginning another term. The 2020 elections saw Suu Kyi’s party, NLD, win 83% of the seats in Parliament. The main opposition party, USDP, cried foul. USDP, which is backed by a majority of military leaders, claimed that there was widespread voter fraud. However, a coalition of 12 independent election observers noted during the election that the election seemed largely fair. A few allegations were made by Human Rights Watch about the fairness of the campaign cycle, including that state-sponsored media tended to favor the NLD and there was censoring of opposition messages.[2] Other observers noted that there had been encouraging reforms made to increase the voting rolls even during the pandemic.[3] However, some ethnic groups, including the Rohingya were restricted from voting at all.[4] In all, it seemed that Myanmar had a lot of progress to make towards fully free and transparent elections, but the will of the majority seemed to have prevailed. Suu Kyi would lead the nation, not Than Htay, head of the USDP.

Protestors holding Aung San Suu Kyi's headshots in protest of her arrest, Philip Fong on Getty Images

In fact, it seems neither will lead the nation. Suu Kyi was arrested along with most NLD leaders, including the sitting President. The Commander-in-Chief of the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s armed forces, instead declared that there would be a one-year state of emergency, which would end following new elections.[5] The Tatmadaw operates independently of Myanmar’s civilian government. During the state of emergency, the commander himself, Min Aung Hlaing, would be the de facto head of the Myanmar government.

Since her arrest, Suu Kyi has been held in an unknown location, though she has had access to a legal team who have said as recently as March 30 that she seemed to be in good health.[6] The remaining NLD leaders who managed to escape arrest are in hiding but have urged resistance against the military takeover. The response from the public has been the largest mass protest since the 2007 Saffron Revolution and includes members from all sectors of public life.[7] The Tatmadaw and police have responded by using lethal and less-than-lethal force to try to disperse crowds. While an exact figure of the dead and wounded is difficult to determine when the government has a vested interest in downplaying those figures, Myanmar and international media have published varying numbers of dead and wounded that all number in the hundreds so far.[8][9]

Police in the Yangon Region, STR/AFP on Getty Images

A popular trend in Internet searches right now suggests that people are asking if the UN can solve the crisis. Unfortunately, this seems unlikely. China has already vetoed a Security Council condemnation of the coup but has independently called for Suu Kyi’s release.[10] China has stated before that they oppose military intervention in Myanmar, so any kind of UN authorization of military force or peacekeeping is nearly impossible. Condemnations from aid organizations and world leaders have drawn attention to the crisis and the US and UK reinstated military sanctions on Myanmar.[11] However, since Myanmar still has regional allies who will likely continue to assist the nation regardless of who is in charge of the government, it is unclear how effective such sanctions will be. In short, it seems that the UN cannot change the impact of the coup through direct intervention and until other diplomatic measures are employed, Myanmar’s protesters will continue facing reprisals from the Tatmadaw and police.

Reports from Myanmar or Burmese Reporters Written by Wa Lone and Aditi Bhandari for the Associated Press

Published by Myanmar Now, an independent Myanmar source

By Myat Thura, Myanmar Times (Myanmar Times suspended operations February 21, 2021)

[1] Head, Jonathan. "Myanmar Coup: Aung San Suu Kyi Detained as Military Seizes Control." BBC News. February 05, 2021. Accessed April 09, 2021.

[2] "Myanmar: Election Fundamentally Flawed." Human Rights Watch. October 28, 2020. Accessed April 09, 2021.

[3] Anfrel. "ANFREL IEOM to the 2020 Myanmar General Elections Interim Report: Asian Network for Free Elections." Asian Network for Free Elections |. December 08, 2020. Accessed April 09, 2021.

[4] Ibid.

[5]Head, Jonathan

[6] "Myanmar's Suu Kyi 'healthy', Lawyer Says, as U.S. Orders Non-essential Staff to Leave." Reuters. March 31, 2021. Accessed April 09, 2021.

[7]"Myanmar Coup: Tens of Thousands Join Largest Protests since 2007." BBC News. February 07, 2021. Accessed April 09, 2021.

[8] "Myanmar: At Least 550 Civilians Killed since Coup: DW: 03.04.2021." Deutsche Welle. April 3, 2021. Accessed April 09, 2021.

[9] Ward, Clarissa, Sandi Sidhu, Brent Swails, Sott McWhinnie, and Salai TZ. "Myanmar Military Denies Responsibility for Child Deaths and Says Elections Could Be Pushed Back." CNN. April 08, 2021. Accessed April 09, 2021.

[10] "Myanmar Coup: China Blocks UN Condemnation as Protest Grows." BBC News. February 03, 2021. Accessed April 09, 2021.

[11] McDonald, Tim. "US and UK Ratchet up Sanctions on Myanmar's Military." BBC News. April 08, 2021. Accessed April 09, 2021.


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